By Steven E. Winberg, Former Assistant Secretary for DOE, and Chair & CEO, Net-Negative CO2 Baseload Power, Inc.
February 7, 2023 - In the bid to win control of the House, Republicans, led by then Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, made a Commitment to America with four tenets:
ü An Economy That’s Strong
ü A Nation That’s Safe
ü A Future That’s Built on Freedom
ü A Government That’s Accountable
Included in An Economy That’s Strong tenet is a statement on energy.
Make America Energy Independent and Reduce Gas Prices
Maximize production of reliable, cleaner, American-made energy and cut the permitting process time in half to reduce reliance on foreign countries, prevent rolling blackouts, and lower the cost of diesel, gas and utilities.
Now in control of the House, Republicans and Speaker McCarthy must deliver on that commitment by finding common ground with Democrats and enacting common sense legislation. The coal industry and its stakeholders must speak up and advance innovative policy proposals with their members of Congress. If coal does not step-up, other energy interests (oil, gas, and nuclear) will fill the void.
A successful strategy to “Make America Energy Independent and Reduce Gas Prices” requires all domestic energy options—oil, gas, coal, nuclear, and renewables. Our nation’s most abundant energy source—coal—will be central to a strong economic future and our national security, and developing 21st century coal technologies must be included in the Commitment to America. For example, coal coupled with carbon capture and biomass co-firing has net-negative carbon dioxide emissions and provides reliable baseload power, which is foundational to the prevention of rolling blackouts. It simultaneously addresses environmental concerns in a pragmatic way that can engender bipartisan support, which is a prerequisite to passing legislation that will protect coal’s short- and long-term interests.
With respect to policies that would ensure coal’s role as part of our energy future, Congress should:
Enact Energy Tax Policy Parity
Federal investment and production electricity tax credits should not favor one form of energy over another. These credits should be awarded based on an electricity generator’s ability to reliably deliver cleaner power. At present, intermittent renewables receive tax credits with no requirement for being reliable. Nuclear generation, which is highly reliable, does not have access to tax credits on the same basis. Fossil fuels, being highly reliable, should have access to the same credits as renewables, if they also operate more cleanly. America needs reliable cleaner electricity, not “clean” electricity at the expense of reliability. Leveling the tax credit playing field will unleash U.S. ingenuity and domestic natural resources, resulting in job development, energy security and lower cost energy and manufactured products.
Halve the Time & Cost of Permitting
Costly and time-consuming permitting challenges cut across our economy from roads and bridges to energy infrastructure to something as simple as erecting new buildings. While Congress should focus broadly on the onerous permitting processes, one area where Congress can have a profound and immediate impact is by amending the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to ensure that NEPA evaluations are right-sized based on the project and that agencies are held accountable for timely decisions. The current NEPA process can take years, and in some cases over a decade. These long permitting delays result in wasted taxpayer dollars, hesitancy by the private sector to participate in federal projects and, too often, good projects being terminated.
Rebalance Existing Federal Appropriations for Energy Innovation
There is need to develop all forms of 21st century energy technology (nuclear, renewables, coal, oil and natural gas). It is essential for our domestic energy security and to demonstrate to the world that climate change concerns can be addressed with an all-of-the-above energy strategy. Federal funding for energy technology development is not limitless. Continued calls from many quarters to spend more are unlikely to be met, so a fiscally responsible approach is to better balance the federal government investments across basic energy science & research, applied R&D, and commercial demonstrations. Technologies, that have the potential to deliver affordable, reliable, clean energy, at a nationally-relevant scale deserve the opportunity to compete for funding. Currently there is a lack of balance among programs in multiple agencies—notably DOE.
Examples of the imbalance that should be corrected include:
Made-in-America Critical Minerals and Materials Technology Development. At present, the vast majority of critical minerals and materials are foreign-sourced and a disproportionate part of the federal investment surrounding these minerals and materials relates to an unachievable vision for an all-renewable world. The country needs greater balance. Yes, we need these materials for batteries to back-up of the intermittency of renewables and for electric vehicles, but we also need these materials for a wide range of energy, industrial, telecommunications, and national defense needs. Budgets within DOE, DoD, NSF, and other agencies need to reflect a proper balance. For example, with emerging technology, critical minerals can be extracted from newly mined coal, yet such technologies have no place or priority in DOE’s current program as they do not fit the Administration’s narrow view of a green energy future.
Net-Negative Emissions Baseload Coal Technology Development. The United States has the world’s largest reserves of high-quality coal. This is evidenced by the increase in U.S. coal exports, which has grown 23% between 2020 and 2021 and for 2022, coal exports are on-track to exceed 2021. Developing economies have stated that they will continue to use coal for decades to come and are building the necessary coal infrastructure to produce electricity that will lift their citizens out of energy poverty. At present, these foreign countries are investing in old 20th century technology with little to no focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The United States can regain its technology leadership position, by developing 21st century coal technologies for use here at home and for export to other countries. These technologies can include energy facilities co-firing coal with biomass wastes, municipal solid waste, and even waste plastics. When combined with carbon capture, technologies co-fired with coal/waste can produce net-negative CO2 emission electricity, hydrogen and other energy-related commodities.
Revitalizing the existing coal fleet with 21st century technology can extend the life of these existing assets; retain American jobs and the much-needed tax base in communities with coal mines or coal plants; and utilize existing infrastructure, such as transmission lines, thus significantly reducing our nation’s energy transition cost, while continuing to provide affordable, reliable, electricity to America. Reintroduce and enact H.R 4891 the “Net-Negative Carbon Dioxide Baseload Power Act” (introduced in the prior Congress), which would begin the revitalization of the existing coal fleet.